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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Review of "Wrong Goodbye" by Chris F. Holm

I finished Chris F. Holm's pulp paranormal thriller 'Wrong Goodbye' this week, the impressive second novel in his 'Collector' series. I had the pleasure of catching up with Chris this summer at Readercon and I have to say this is the writing, foremost, of a committed story-teller. In that, I mean, Chris has a tale to tell and he goes about the business of telling it with style and authority.

If you haven't read the first novel in the series: 'The Dead Harvest,' I suggest you do so, but it isn't strictly speaking necessary in terms of understanding what's going on in the plot. The anti-hero of the series is Sam Thorton, a 'Collector,' a disembodied spirit capable of leaping from one body to the next in pursuit of condemned souls to cast into Hell - basically an infernal repo man. Not the most sympathetic of protagonists but like all the best noire archetypes, the road to his particular hell was paved with good intentions.

Not that Chris's stories waste a lot of time being mopey. Starting with a bang in the steamy jungles of South America, Sam walks into a double-cross at hands if an old friend, Danny Young. Danny lifts a soul Sam was assigned to harvest, an act that puts Sam in very hot-water with the powerful forces he works for. Sam has no choice but to set off on a chase for Danny and the missing soul before it's his own turn to be collected.

What I appreciated most about 'The Wrong Goodbye' is how the swift brutal prose in his first book has begun to mutate into something far more chatty and atmospheric in his second. 'The Dead Harvest' was a pulp crime thriller, 'The Wrong Goodbye' is a pulp road movie. The best I can do to describe it is the first book was like Reservoir Dogs after a script consult by Kevin Smith; this book feels like Tarrantino channelling some Bill Bourroughs on his way to film "On the Road." The first book was all business, the second takes the time out to chill with its appealingly scruffy characters. In the later sections especially, I think Chris really makes the sordid locations come to (un)life with ghoulish skill.

I'd like to see more of that honestly in the next novel. 'The Wrong Goodbye' found a way to weave a great number of disparate locations and literary motifs into one coherent vision. The set-piece inside what amounted to a demon's crack den was pure Lovecraft fan service. The 'amoral pilgrimage' vibe of the second act reminded me of Hunter S Thompson without ever slipping into pastiche. I'd like writing that takes me places I can't visit. So my question is what other places, people, and set-ups The Collector' series can claim its own.
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